Anarchic comedy has traditionally been relegated to the domain of sub-genre in English-language film. Anarchic humor is not one regularly enjoyed by the mass of moviegoers, especially those raised on the pabulum of logical connections that take you from Point A to Point B and so forth. Nevertheless, a number of truly great films from America and England have created comedy gold from anarchy.
Anarchic comedy began before the talkies. Silent comedies were more often examples of anarchy than not, and a number of great comic films that don't feature dialogue can be considered examples of pure anarchy. The great chase sequences in the films of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton are wonderful examples of anarchic humor at work. Less well-known these days but highly worth searching out are the series of comedy shorts that teamed Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd.
The Marx Brothers may not have originated anarchic comedy in Hollywood film during the sound era, but they certainly raised it to the level of commercially successful art. Other Marx Brothers movies may fulfill the requirements and qualifications of anarchic more than "Duck Soup," but the chaos present in this offering from Groucho, Chico, and Harpo lifts it to a level slightly above all contenders. "Duck Soup" actually starts out as a fairly controlled Marx Brothers movie with a definite plot at work. But, in the spirit of political anarchy, that control immediately begins to unravel so that by the final sequences everything is up for grabs. The anarchic spirit of comedy is best expressed by the continually changing costumes worn by Groucho during the extended war sequence near the end of the movie.
For many people, anarchic comedy means Monty Python. Watching a Monty Python movie --and, even more so a Monty Python TV episode -- is not unlike watching a classic Warner Bros. cartoon from the 1940s. Anarchy reigned supreme in those cartoon shorts and paved the way for the short, sketchy quality of Monty Python that loosely tied together a series of unrelated stories. Although many people prefer "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the best example of anarchic comedy by Monty Python on the big screen is probably "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life." This is the film that most closely resembles the structure of the TV show, tying together a string of set-pieces based upon theme rather than character or plot.
"A Hard Day's Night" is generally regarded as the finest Beatles' movie, but the funniest is actually "Help!" The second Beatles movie abandons all attempts at locating the Fab Four within reality and instead settles them firmly into a ridiculously anarchic series of situations tied to one of the best spy spoofs of all time. The anarchy in this comedy stretches from The Exciting Adventures of Paul on the Floor segment, in which McCartney has shrunk to just a few inches tall, to the short and surreal intermission to the bizarre dedication of the film to Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine. A fiendish thingy is "Help!"
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- Anarchic comedy
- Monty Python